All children have a right to an education, regardless of their circumstances. For children and young people with care experience this may mean that additional support is required during their time in school to meet their distinct, and often unseen, needs. One of key goals of Virtual School Head Teachers’ (VSHT) is to help create environments where care experienced children will feel more settled, motivated, and resilient, to ensure a better experience at school. This, in turn, will help to improve attendance, educational outcomes, and contribute to better life chances.
What is a Virtual School Head Teacher?
A VSHT is a senior member of education staff in a local authority who works at a strategic level, but not in a physical school building. The VSHT is a different role to that of the Designated Manager; a senior member of staff in every Scottish education establishment who has overall responsibility for the planning of assessment and support for care experienced children and young people.The VSHTs responsibilities focus on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people in the whole local authority area. VSHTs also provide key links between multi-agency teams and advocate for the needs and rights of care experienced children and young people.
There are currently 16 local authorities in Scotland with a VSHT in post. In England, the role of the VSHT has operated on a statutory basis in every local authority for a number of years and has been shown to have a positive impact on the educational experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people.
You can read more about the VSHTs in Scotland and the work they do in their local authority areas by clicking on the profiles below.
How has the role of the VSHT evolved in Scotland?
In 2015, Aberdeen City became the first local authority in Scotland to have a VSHT in post.
In 2018, the Scottish Government awarded additional funding to local authorities through the Care Experienced Children and Young Person’s Fund as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. The Scottish Government guidance promoted flexibility and creativity in the use of the additional funding and encouraged areas to develop services to meet the needs of the children and families within the context of their local areas. A number of local authorities used this additional funding to develop the role of a VSHT, or Care Experienced Team (CET), with the goal of raising attainment and achievement for care experienced children and young people. As part of this, many of these local authorities sought advice from CELCIS, as a national organisation striving to create and sustain positive change for care experienced children and families; and Aberdeen City, as the first authority in Scotland to have a VSHT, about how to effectively develop the role in their local authority area.
To help meet this need, CELCIS, in partnership with the VSHT for Aberdeen City, convened a meeting with all local authority areas involved in the work to discuss the support needs of those in the role. Subsequently, the VSHT and CET Network was established, and has continued to meet regularly to share and discuss good practice, participation, policy, and objectives.
In 2020, the Scottish Government awarded additional funding to CELCIS to formalise and strengthen the support provided as the host of Scotland’s VSHT Network. As part of this increased support, Larissa Gordon, the first VSHT in Scotland for Aberdeen City, joined CELCIS’s Education Team part-time as a National VSHT Advisor to develop the network even further. In 2021, The Scottish Government awarded further funding to CELCIS to invest in the continued development of Scotland’s Virtual School Head Teachers’ Network.
Welcome from Linda O’Neill, Education Lead, CELCIS
Hello, and thank you for visiting our online resource showcasing the work of VSHTs in Scotland and the VSHT Network.
I have been leading the education work at CELCIS for five years, with the strategic focus of improving educational experiences and outcomes for all care experienced children and young people. Alongside Larissa Gordon, I convened the first Virtual School Head Teacher and Care Experienced Team network meeting in March 2019 and since then I have had the privilege of leading this work within CELCIS. Working alongside local authorities, Scottish Government and Education Scotland, we have worked to develop both the network and an understanding of the impact of the role to drive progress towards improved educational experiences for all care experienced children and young people.
The network is supported by a fantastic team from across CELCIS, Education Scotland and Scottish Government: Michael Bettencourt, Education Consultant; Sarah Deeley, Improving Care Experiences Consultant, CELCIS; Emma Dixon, Communications Manager, CELCIS; Maria Flores-McGinty, Projects and Systems Administrator, CELCIS; Laura Kane, Administrative Assistant, CELCIS; Leanne McIver, Research Associate, CELCIS; Hassan Ahmed, Scottish Government; Andrew Morison, Scottish Government; Janine McCullough, Education Scotland.
If you are interested in finding out more about the network, please get in touch.
Meet Scotland's Virtual School Head Teachers
Aberdeen City, Larissa Gordon
Larissa Gordon, Aberdeen City
Larissa Gordon is the Virtual School Head Teacher in Aberdeen City and was the first Virtual School Head Teacher in Scotland, taking up the post in December 2015. Larissa’s virtual school team includes an Education Support Officer and she is supported by colleagues in social work, the third sector, central education services, and a Looked After Children’s Nurse. Together, they work to develop and improve services for care experienced children and young people, including support for children in kinship care and early years. Larissa also works closely with a range of agencies to provide an effective and strategically coordinated approach to levelling the playing field for care experienced children. In addition to her role in Aberdeen, Larissa joined CELCIS’s Education Team part-time in 2020 as the National Advisor to the Virtual School Head Teacher Network.
You can contact Larissa by emailing email@example.com
Aberdeenshire, Emma Allan
Emma Allan, Aberdeenshire
Emma Allen is the Virtual Head Teacher in Aberdeenshire. Since taking up the post in August 2019, Emma and her team have worked closely with care experienced primary and secondary pupils through key staff in their schools, as well as providing support at a strategic level for young people leaving school and children in early years settings. In partnership with care experienced pupils, the team is currently co-designing an online platform where children and young people can share their views, successes, and find useful resources. Emma and her team have also focused on building positive relationships with multi-agency colleagues to develop networks, raise awareness and work towards planning support for pupils to improve their attainment and outcomes.
You can contact Emma by emailing Virtual.School@aberdeenshire.gov.uk
Argyll and Bute, Christine Walker
In Argyll and Bute, the Care Experienced Fund has enabled the creation of the post of Principal Teacher for Care Experienced Children. From January 2019 to December 2020, the post-holder was Lena Carter. The post was taken up by Christine Walker in January 2021 when Lena returned to her substantive role in the school. The post has facilitated a sharp focus on meeting the needs of care experienced learners of all ages and their families through robust multi-agency work, support for education settings, training, tracking and monitoring, and risk and data analysis. During 2020, a team of Looked After Health and Wellbeing Liaison Officers were appointed as part of the team and together they are providing highly effective, needs-driven support despite the potential additional barriers to educational engagement arising as a result of COVID-19.
You can contact Christine by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Dumfries and Galloway, Alison Ferla
Alison Ferla, Dumfries and Galloway
Alison Ferla is the Principal Teacher for care experienced children and young people in Dumfries and Galloway. Since taking up the post in February 2019, Alison’s role has evolved to work alongside a team of three teachers and nine care experienced support officers. Alison and the team work with primary and secondary pupils to raise attainment, with a focus on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, and to support young people to address any barriers to education they may encounter. The team also works with families to help support and progress this improvement.
You can contact Alison by emailing Alison.Ferla@dumgal.gov.uk or phoning 07771252872.
Dundee, Fiona Low
Fiona Low, Dundee City
Fiona Low is the Education Officer in Dundee City. Fiona works closely with the Education Manager (additional support needs, educational psychology and inclusion), and is supported by colleagues across Dundee's Children and Families Service, including educational psychologists and the Accessibility and Inclusion Team. Fiona's work involves all school age care experienced children and young people, with a close link to children in residential settings, children not accessing mainstream education, children with additional support needs, and young carers. By developing links with teams who work closely with children in residential houses, Fiona acts as a key link between the houses and schools to support new processes and plans for young people. Fiona's also works with Dundee’s Champions Board and on improving transitions for care leavers, which has been established through developing close relationships with the Throughcare and Aftercare Team.
You can contact Fiona by emailing email@example.com or phoning 07824 343 047.
East Lothian, Sheila Laing
Sheila Laing, East Lothian
Sheila Laing is the Virtual School Head Teacher for East Lothian. Sheila took up the post in June 2019 and works with care experienced children and young people, including care leavers. She also works with young people who are looked after at home, living in residential units or struggling to manage secondary school. East Lothian now also has a strong network of Designated Managers for care experienced young people in every school, with twice yearly learning sessions run in collaboration with East Lothian Who Cares? Scotland Participation Officers. In 2021 Sheila and the Who Cares? Scotland Participation Officers will be piloting work with young people in S1 and S2 to increase understanding of care experience to remove stigma for care experienced young people.
You can contact Sheila by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 07971712181.
Edinburgh, Sharon McGhee
Sharon McGhee, City of Edinburgh
Sharon McGhee is a Quality Improvement Education Officer for the City of Edinburgh Council with a responsibility for care experienced children and young people in Edinburgh. With over 22 years’ experience working in multiple education settings, Sharon’s role is to ensure that all partners work with and on behalf of Edinburgh’s children to ensure that aspirations and outcomes are of the highest standard. A key part of Sharon’s role is to listen and respond to the voices of children and young people with a key focus on education.
Sharon is care experienced and a foster carer, and her professional skills and abilities along with her personal lived experiences have been combined in a role which she describes as ‘energising, exciting and crucial’.
Sharon can be contacted by emailing Sharon.email@example.com or phoning 07843 504894
Fife, Zoe Thomson
Zoe Thomson, Fife
A multi-disciplinary team of staff from education and social work, led by a Virtual Head Teacher, was established in Fife in June 2019 to ensure that effective planning is in place for care experienced children and young people. This includes contributing to the review of policy and procedures for school transfers, to quality assure secure placements, and championing the education needs, rights and wellbeing of children and young people in schools. Mentors are trained to support young people in secondary school, with a focus on those who are looked after at home, in kinship care or residential care. Improvement methodology tests of change are used to track and monitor attendance, engagement and attainment for identified young people in secondary schools. Fife’s Education and Children's Services Directorate is currently refreshing its strategy in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can contact the team in Fife by emailing Zoe Thomson, Education Manger on Zoe.Thomson@fife.gov.uk
Glasgow, Sonja Kerr
Sonja Kerr, Glasgow
Sonja Kerr is a Deputy Head Teacher in Glasgow. Sonja took up the post in October 2020 and works with a multi-disciplinary team of colleagues that oversee responsibility for care experienced children of all age groups, from early years to school leavers, to improve attendance, attainment, school exclusion rates and positive destinations. The team have built close relationships with colleagues working in residential homes. They provide support, guidance and training when needed. They have also developed links with vocational programmes, such as First Steps Future Training and Action for Children as well as the Volunteer Tutor Organisation and Intandem Mentoring.
You can contact Sonja by emailing Sonja.Kerr@glasgow.gov.uk or phoning 07769137592.
Highland, Kellie Cunningham
Highland, Kellie Cunningham
More information coming soon.
Midothian, Keith Millar
Keith Millar, Midothian
Keith Millar was previously the Virtual Head Teacher in Midlothian, which formed part of his role as Head Teacher of Midlothian’s Inclusion and Wellbeing Service. Keith’s role, for the next year, is Quality Improvement Officer for Inclusion and Wellbeing. Keith oversees a range of multi-disciplinary colleagues, including teachers, youth workers, child care development workers and learning assistants. Together, they work primarily with primary and secondary pupils who have social, emotional, and behavioural needs whilst also supporting those who are looked after at home to help raise attainment and attendance. As part of the role, Keith also meets regularly with children’s reporters to build relationships and awareness of his role, and chairs the Senior Officer’s Review Group, providing support for the most vunerable pupils in Midlothian.
You can contact Keith by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 07791368008.
North Lanarkshire, Mary Jane Hunter
Mary Jane Hunter, North Lanarkshire
Mary Jane Hunter is the Virtual School Lead in North Lanarkshire. Mary Jane took up the post in May 2019 and oversees a multi-disciplinary team, which includes staff from Social Work, Children’s Residential Care and Education. The Virtual School Team provides a range of (often bespoke) services and projects to raise attainment, improve outcomes and to support care experienced children and young people in reaching their potential. The Virtual School Team also works closely with schools, residential staff and other partners to help build the skills and capacity of staff in order to support young people at school and with their learning.
You can contact Mary Jane and the Virtual School Team by emailing email@example.com or phoning 01698 332045
Renfrewshire, Jean Brierley
Renfrewshire, Jean Brierley
More information coming soon.
Scottish Borders, Annabel Bates
Scottish Borders, Annabel Bates
More information coming soon.
South Ayrshire, Kimberley Keenan
Kimberley Keenan, South Ayrshire
Kimberley Keenan is the Virtual School Head Teacher in South Ayrshire. Kimberley took up post in August 2019 and works with a team of Welfare Officers who work directly with care experienced young people and their families. Alongside this work, Kimberley works with schools to build relationships with staff and provide support to help them raise the attainment of care experienced pupils. In addition, Kimberley and her team work closely with other organisations and services to ensure that care experienced pupils and their families receive the support they need. Kimberley also works more strategically with her colleagues in education and health and social care teams.
You can contact Kimberley by emailing Kimberley.firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 01292 612309.
Stirling, Sarah Anderson
Sarah Anderson, Stirling
Stirling's Virtual Head Teacher Team is made up of a number of part-time staff members, including Sarah Anderson, the Additional Support Needs and Wellbeing Team Lead, an education psychologist, two secondary deputy head teachers, and a support for learning teacher, with admin support provided by colleagues in social work. Together, they oversee responsibility for all care experienced children and young people in the area, including young people in training, employment and activity agreements. Their focus includes monitoring and tracking attendance, exclusions and attainment, promoting wellbeing and mental health awareness, and engaging with young people and ensuring they have a voice in decisions that matter to them. They also promote training and development of the workforce, with an emphasis on raising awareness of the role of corporate parents. They participate in the wider Corporate Parenting Strategy group for Stirling Council and work closely with Stirling’s Champions Board.
You can contact the Virtual Head Teacher for Stirling by emailing AdditionalSupportNeeds@stirling.gov.uk, or by emailing the Additional Support Needs and Wellbeing Team Lead, Sarah Anderson, at: email@example.com